Why Do Presbyterian Churches Have Red Doors?

Some Presbyterian churches have distinguishing features, like a steeple that points to the sky and beautiful wooden pews that creak with age. For example, some churches have red front doors leaving many people to wonder why.

Presbyterian church doors are painted red because of the color’s importance in the Bible. The Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ are two prominent stories in which blood plays an important theological role. The affordability of red paint in previous centuries helped establish this tradition.

Why would a church want people to think of blood when they enter their building? Why was red paint more affordable than other colors? Do churches in other denominations and traditions paint their doors red, too? Keep reading to learn more.

Also, see Presbyterian vs. Roman Catholic: What’s the Difference? to learn more.

Does the Bible teach that churches should paint their doors red? See below

The Biblical Basis For a Red Door

No verse in the Bible instructs churches to paint their doors red. However, blood is a significant topic in the Bible because life is in it (Lev. 17:11). Many descriptions of blood in the Bible are literal. Still, the imagery of it is also significant because it symbolizes life. (Also, see Presbyterian vs. Pentecostal: What’s the Difference?)

For example, when a writer mentions large quantities of blood (e.g., Rev. 14:20), the intention is to convey that many people died: “The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse‚Äôs bridle.” (Revelation 14:20, ESV, emphasis added).

Red doors on Presbyterian churches likely come from two Bible stories in particular. The first story, the Passover, is from the Old Testament. The other story is the crucifixion of Christ from the New Testament.

What is the Passover? Passover is an Old Testament story from the book of Exodus. The term also refers to the annual commemoration of the event. In the story, God sent an angel of death to judge all the firstborn Egyptian males (Exod. 12:12). (Presbyterian vs. Episcopalian: What’s the Difference?)

The angel would “pass over” the homes of the Israelites who put blood on their doorposts: “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (Exod. 12:7).

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13-14. ESV, emphasis added)

What is the crucifixion of Christ? Doctrinally, Christianity teaches that the atonement Christ’s death provides for sin, along with his resurrection from the dead, is the means of salvation.

Crucifixion as a form of death was brutal and bloody (Matt. 27:45-66, John 19:18-37). Because Christ’s death is an atonement for sin, Bible writers use the imagery of his blood to describe realities about forgiveness.

For example, John writes, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, ESV, emphasis added)

Also, see What’s the Difference Between Presbyterian and Evangelical? to learn more.

Why don’t Presbyterians paint their churches red? See below

Blood Protects and Saves the Faithful

People unfamiliar with the Bible may find the mention and imagery of blood disturbing at first. Yet blood is important in the Bible, and therefore to Christians, because of what it conveys theologically. (Also see Why Don’t Presbyterian Churches Have Altars?)

Blood protected God’s people during the Passover, saving them from physical death. The Passover foreshadows the ultimate “pass over” of Christ’s death as his blood saves people from physical and eternal death.

When Presbyterian churches paint their doors red, it suggests God’s people worship in that place. Passing through a red door reminds sinful people that God has mercifully provided a way for the condemned to have new life. (Also see How Do Presbyterians Baptize Adults?)

The same God that saved the Israelites from the angel of death and offered His only son (John 3:16) to save people from eternal death itself is the same God who has saved them and who they come to worship at church that day. [1]

Why Is the Door Painted Red and Not the Whole Church?

  • First, it would take much more paint to cover the entire structure than just the door.
  • Second, painting the front door is closer to the Passover story than painting the entire structure. Some may respond that it wasn’t the door but the door posts covered in blood in Exodus 12. This is true, but churches aren’t trying to mimic the Passover but remind people of what it foreshadowed — the death of Christ.
  • Third, the door is how people enter the church to worship, just like the blood of Christ enables people to be righteous in God’s sight.
Presbyterian Christian Church
Presbyterian Christian Church

Is Red Paint More Affordable Than Other Colors?

While there are important theological reasons why church doors are painted red, there is a practical reason that helped make it possible.

Before the modern process of dying paint was established, people had to find specific ingredients to add to a base mixture to create a particular color.

The ingredients used to create red paint were plentiful and easily found. This is why European homes starting in the Middle Ages and barns in early American history were painted red. (Also see How Often Do Presbyterians Take Communion?)

How did they make paint? People used various base ingredients to make paint, like milk, but red iron oxide made the color. [2] The coating provided a layer of protection on doors, often made of wood. The paint also lasted for a long time.

Most importantly, the red color signified an essential biblical truth: God has intervened in history and provided a way for sinners to be saved.

The Role of Tradition In Red Church Doors

In some cases, churches may paint their doors red because they know it’s traditional, yet they don’t know why they are doing it.

In the Middle Ages, if churches painted their doors red, it’s possible that the color became a way to identify a structure as a church. In this way, the symbolic theological meaning may have been lost over the years.

City of Refuge: There is evidence that red doors signified safe places, similar to the Cities of Refuge that the Bible describes.

Cities of Refuge, mentioned in books like Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, were safe places people accused of a crime could go to escape people who may be seeking revenge. [3]

The Cities of Ruge provided them with security until a trial occurred. In some locations in the Western world, churches have harbored people seeking to flee those with ill intent and even the government.

Martin Luther: In the time of German Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the famous church at Wittenberg may have had red doors. If this is the case, other Reformed churches may have painted red doors to signify unity in the movement. (Also see Do Presbyterians Use the Rosary?)

Do Other Denominations paint their church doors red? Yes. Churches in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic traditions have painted their doors red.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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